It won t be long before we undertake one of the last vegetable gardening tasks of the growing season harvesting the carrot crop. I always leave this annual task for a bright, sunny October day so that the job becomes a pleasant afternoon spent outdoors in the garden.
My wife and I have a small-town garden and grow a short row of carrots in this garden that are used as a source of fresh carrots during the summer. They have long since been harvested and enjoyed. We are lucky enough to be able to grow some vegetables in the large farm garden of one of the brothers of my wife, and here we grow the carrots that we store for winter eating.
I am never in a hurry to harvest root vegetables in the fall. I always maintain that they store best in the ground, and light fall frosts will do no harm to the vegetables as long as the roots themselves have a good covering of soil. I therefore often hill the carrots late in the season to ensure that there will be no frost damage.
We grow two varieties of carrots: Nantes and Danvers Half Long. Both of these varieties are cylindrical and finely textured. They have sweet flesh and are good winter storage carrots.
Carrots like a rich, deeply dug fertile soil. They will grow in a heavy clay soil like we have in Minnedosa but more misshapen carrots will be produced than in sandy loam soils. We used to grow wonderfully straight carrots in the sandy loam soil of our Carberry garden. When planting carrot seed, I sprinkle seeds in a 25-cm-wide row. I find that sowing the seeds thinly produces large carrots, but we prefer that our carrots not get too huge, so we tend to sow the seeds a bit thicker.
A myriad of carrot varieties is listed in most seed catalogues and each of the varieties has a claim to fame, whether it is size, sweetness or shape. I prefer the cylindrical types as opposed to the pointed types for two reasons. They do not seem to grow quite as large and the outsides of the carrots don t have deep grooves that tend to make them hard to clean. The smoother the skin, the easier the carrots will be to clean. We ve also learned a few tricks over the years to assist in this task, so let me share them.
When we dig the carrots, we do so in small batches. Each batch is quickly topped and tailed and thrown into a pail of cold water. The water keeps the carrots firm and prevents the soil on them from drying and becoming more difficult to remove. After the pail is full of carrots, we dump them onto a wooden frame whose bottom is made of screen. A spray from the garden hose with a spray gun set to produce a strong blast of water quickly removes any soil that is still clinging to the carrots. Tumbling the carrots as they are sprayed ensures that the carrots are clean on all sides.
The carrots are allowed to sit on the screen for an hour or so to dry and then they are placed in plastic bags. After the bags are tied shut with twist ties a few holes are punctured in each bag to allow excess moisture to escape. The bags of carrots are placed into cardboard boxes and put in the coolest part of our heated garage. The temperature of the garage is maintained just above freezing. This is another reason that we postpone our carrot harvest until as late as possible we want the garage to be as cool as possible so the carrots will store well. Some people who have an extra refrigerator store the bags of carrots in the fridge, which works well. The idea is to keep the carrots as cool as possible without freezing them.
The final task of the carrot harvest is to add the tops and tails to the compost bin so that the vegetable garden can be enriched with compost and another successful carrot crop can be grown in the garden again next year.
Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba